SCOTUS Watch | Dec 11, 2020
The Supreme Court has made monumental rulings amidst the COVID-19 crisis. As governors push the limits of their power, the presidential election remains undecided, and the Georgia Senate runoff elections loom, Americans are keenly aware of the Supreme Court's importance.
According to our recent My Faith Votes poll, 56 percent of our respondents said that abortion and the Supreme Court were the most critical issues they considered when casting their votes.
In this special SCOTUS Watch issue, we will review the following:
- Religious Freedom Amid COVID-19 (Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, v. Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York)
- The Issue of State Abortion Laws (Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, P.S.C.)
- 2020 Election Challenge (State of Texas v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, State of Georgia, State of Michigan, and State of Wisconsin)
Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, v. Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York
In a 5-4 decision Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett provided the fifth vote in a vital religious freedom ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the three liberal justices on the bench in dissent.
The ruling stipulated New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is not permitted to deny Americans their First Amendment rights of religious freedom due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Cuomo’s restrictions limited in-person religious gatherings to no more than ten persons in red zones and no more than 25 in orange zones. Yet, those categorized by the state as “essential” were not limited to any specific number of persons.
In the ruling, Justice Neal Gorsuch said, “It is time – past time – to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutters churches, synagogues.”
What are The Constitutional Freedoms and Exceptions?
While many have differing opinions on group gatherings, the question that every judge and elected official must first ask is, “What are the Constitutional freedoms that I must not violate?” The First Amendment clearly states that the government cannot “prohibit the free exercise” of religion.
The next question is, “Are there any exceptions to this?” The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bipartisan bill passed in 1993, states that the government can only place a burden on someone’s religious exercise if it can prove: (1) it is necessary to advance a “compelling governmental interest”, and (2) the government must use the least restrictive means possible. In its recent ruling, the Supreme Court stated that Governor Cuomo’s harsh restrictions violated both those requirements: “Not only is there no evidence that the applicants have contributed to the spread of COVID–19 but there are many other less restrictive rules that could be adopted to minimize the risk to those attending religious services…. the State has not claimed that attendance at the applicants’ services has resulted in the spread of the disease. And the State has not shown that public health would be imperiled if less restrictive measures were imposed.”
Additionally, the Court recognized the damage resulting from such restrictions: “The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury…. If only 10 people are admitted to each service, the great majority of those who wish to attend Mass on Sunday or services in a synagogue on Shabbat will be barred. And while those who are shut out may in some instances be able to watch services on television, such remote viewing is not the same as personal attendance. Catholics who watch a Mass at home cannot receive communion, and there are important religious traditions in the Orthodox Jewish faith that require personal attendance.”
While some may view the churches as selfish, those who truly investigate this matter will find the opposite. 1 Peter 2:15 instructs Christians to keep our conduct among unbelievers honorable, for God’s will is that “by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” The churches who filed the lawsuit were found to have already implemented numerous safety protocols and have “admirable safety records.”
Implications for Religious Freedom in California and Beyond
Governor Cuomo had already lifted his regulation limiting gatherings to 25 people when this ruling was issued, which makes clear that the justices intended to send a message to other governors and state officials, that religious freedom and the First Amendment must be upheld.
The Justices have also ordered a federal district court to reconsider a California church’s challenge to restrictions on indoor worship services. Harvest Rock Church filed a lawsuit claiming religious gatherings are treated less favorably than other businesses such as grocery stores, malls, swap meets, and card rooms. In addition, they say California Gavin Newsom openly encouraged the Black Lives Matter protests attended by thousands of people.
Praise the Lord for this encouraging ruling and please continue to pray for churches to walk in faith and obedience toward God, continuing to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. (Matthew 5:13-16) Pray for churches in California to continue to preach the Gospel to a hurting world and for elected officials to heed the Supreme Court’s ruling and direction.
You can read the full Supreme Court ruling issued on November 25, 2020 here.
Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, P.S.C.
A critical cert petition has been issued to the Supreme Court in the case, Cameron v. EMV Women’s Surgical Center, P.S.C. A Petition for Writ of Certiorari (informally called Cert Petition) is a document that a losing party files with the Supreme Court asking the Supreme Court to review the decision of a lower court. It includes a list of the parties, a statement of the facts of the case, the legal questions presented for review, and arguments as to why the Court should grant the writ.
In 2018 Kentucky passed a law relating to abortion that banned dangerous abortion procedures known as dilation and evacuation which are used for abortions performed after the first trimester. The law was challenged in court by the EMW Women’s Surgical Center. The Kentucky health secretary defended the law, but when a district court struck down the law and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit affirmed the decision, the case was not appealed. Kentucky then elected a new attorney general in 2019 who sought to challenge the 6th Circuit Court’s ruling, but his request was denied by the court. Days later the Supreme Court ruled in the Louisiana abortion case, June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, and struck down Louisiana’s abortion regulations.
The Supreme Court Justices according to The SCOTUS blog now face a “procedural question:”
Whether a state attorney general...should be permitted to intervene after a federal court of appeals invalidates a state statute when no other state actor will defend the law; and whether, if so, the Supreme Court should vacate the judgment below and remand for further consideration in light of June Medical Services, L.L.C. v. Russo.
This case could be critical for the sanctity of life across the country. Pray for the justices as they consider this case, that they would uphold the Constitution.
State of Texas v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, State of Georgia, State of Michigan, and State of Wisconsin
On December 7, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Michigan’s presidential election results.
Attorney General Paxton claims that all four states made changes to their election laws that were unconstitutional.
You can read Attorney General Paxton’s statement below:
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton today filed a lawsuit against Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the United States Supreme Court. The four states exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to justify ignoring federal and state election laws and unlawfully enacting last-minute changes, thus skewing the results of the 2020 General Election. The battleground states flooded their people with unlawful ballot applications and ballots while ignoring statutory requirements as to how they were received, evaluated and counted.
“Trust in the integrity of our election processes is sacrosanct and binds our citizenry and the States in this Union together. Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin destroyed that trust and compromised the security and integrity of the 2020 election. The states violated statutes enacted by their duly elected legislatures, thereby violating the Constitution. By ignoring both state and federal law, these states have not only tainted the integrity of their own citizens’ vote, but of Texas and every other state that held lawful elections,” said Attorney General Paxton. “Their failure to abide by the rule of law casts a dark shadow of doubt over the outcome of the entire election. We now ask that the Supreme Court step in to correct this egregious error.”
Elections for federal office must comport with federal constitutional standards. For presidential elections, each state must appoint its electors to the electoral college in a manner that complies with the Constitution. The Electors Clause requirement that only state legislatures may set the rules governing the appointment of electors and elections and cannot be delegated to local officials. The majority of the rushed decisions, made by local officials, were not approved by the state legislatures, thereby circumventing the Constitution.
You can read the Texas lawsuit here.
It didn’t take long for other states to offer their support. Eighteen states have now joined the Texas lawsuit. In addition, 106 members of Congress filed a so-called "friend of the court" or amicus brief in support of the plaintiff in the case of State of Texas v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, State of Georgia, State of Michigan, and State of Wisconsin.
On December 8, the Supreme Court ordered Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania to respond to the lawsuit. Any lawsuit one state brings against another bypasses circuit courts and goes directly before the Supreme Court. The filing sets up possible action at any time from the justices and as of 12/11/20 at 10 AM, there have been no further developments.
President Trump also offered his support of the suit when his legal team filed a motion to intervene in the case asking the Supreme Court to allow President Trump to become a plaintiff in the Texas lawsuit.
Some (including the mainstream media) have labeled this lawsuit “crazy,” while others believe Texas has every right to challenge the states when voter fraud is in question and election laws go unfollowed.
One thing is known for sure, this matter will be solved swiftly because December 14 is when the electors from every state will meet and cast their official ballots on behalf of their states. And on January 6, Congress will count the electoral votes and verify the election results.
Pray for our country during this time, that Americans would have patience as every legal vote is counted and election results verified. Pray for truth to prevail. Pray that the results would not further divide our nation. Most importantly, pray for Americans to turn their hearts to Christ amid this political uncertainty. May they find true hope and peace by accepting the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. We pray for an awakening and revival to sweep across our nation.
My Faith Votes—is a nonpartisan movement that motivates, equips and activates Christians in America to vote in every election, transforming our communities and influencing our nation with biblical truth. By partnering with national faith leaders, My Faith Votes provides resources to help Christians Pray, Think, and Act to create an America where God is honored in the public square.
What a development! It feels like Moses is shouting the words to us -"Stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today!" Ex 14:13
Thank you Lord!!